Sunday, July 7, 2013

Failing the First Time is an Option

Continuing on the theme of unintended consequences that I was pursuing this past Wednesday, I have to say that I am beginning to feel that one of the main contributions to the general failure of government may be the extent to which, between the technologies of the Internet and those of broadcasting, the world can now observe (and comment upon) the activities of every corner of the world, no matter how remote. I would like to suggest that this may create a particularly hazardous situation in Egypt, where the future of having any government at all may be on the line. The most serious of those unintended consequences is the capacity of observers, who are not particularly well-informed, to end up saying very silly things.

Thus, in the latest Al Jazeera English dispatch, we read of demonstrators describing the events of the last few days as "revolution," rather than "coup." I suspect that this is a reaction to the extent to which the United States has been very careful to avoid the word "coup," since, just as a technicality, it would interfere with any efforts to provide aid. (Whether or not that consequence would be a good thing is left as an exercise for the reader.) More disturbing, however, is the final sentence of the Al Jazeera English article:
EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso called on Egypt's new leaders to "restore constitutional order".
Without even getting into the question of the extent to which the financial management of the European Union has damaged the economic viability of its member states, there is the deeper problem of whether or not Barroso really knows what is going on in Egypt. Does he mean by "restore constitutional order" the re-imposition of the authority of a constitution that was never ratified by any process even remotely democratic?

I wonder if Barroso knows the ugly truth about how long it took the United States to come up with a Constitution that could stand up to such ratification. Does he know that the "first try" (the Articles of Confederation) was a dismal failure? Does he know how many details needed to be ironed out simply in establishing a Constitutional Convention to pick up after the mess? Even more important, does he know the role of the so-called "Federalist" papers in mounting a public relations campaign without which ratification might not have been successful? Most importantly, does he realize that government is not about some rational theory but about the management of the irrational capacities of the governed?

We must remember that, while our country won its Revolutionary War, its first attempt to form a government failed; and getting things wrong the first time (without immediate consequences of external interference) may have been instrumental in our getting it right the second time.

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